If Audiences Bail on The Time Traveler’s Wife Now, It’s Understandable

The Time Traveler's Wife episode 2 explains more of the rules but risks alienating viewers with Henry's behaviour

The Time Traveler's Wife episode 2 Theo James
Photo: HBO/Sky

Warning: contains The Time Traveler’s Wife spoilers.

The Time Traveler’s Wife Episode 2 Review

The Time Traveler’s Wife episode two explains a key part of how Henry’s powers work as well as the story’s philosophy towards couples getting together. While the episode explains why Henry and Clare will get together, it also takes some strange turns regarding Henry’s psychology. 

The episode starts with another clip from the documentary about Henry’s powers. Clare explains Henry can travel to the past or present within his own life span. Henry scares children and tourists by appearing naked in the middle of the day. He cannot control when he time travels and where he lands. As an example of the danger, we see a clip of Henry trapped in a cage and climbing a skyscraper.  

Henry then reveals that there are important events in his life he feels a gravitational pull towards revisiting. One of these moments is Christmas Day 1988. We then see Henry at eight years old as that is the day his mother died. The day starts out normally. Annette, his mom is driving to the airport to pick up Richard, his dad. Henry is in the backseat. A driver going way too fast hits their car from behind causing Annette to run into a truck carrying sheet metal. The metal hits the windshield decapitating Annette. Eight-year-old Henry receives a blanket from one of the older Henrys. Several older versions of Henry are watching the scene of the accident from various angles. Henry can’t stop staring at the most traumatic moment of his life. 

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After the accident montage, the story travels back to six-year-old Clare meeting 31-year-old Henry in the woods. They play checkers while Clare asks Henry why he is sad all the time. He explains that he won’t tell her until she sees “a green man serving banana coffee by Lake Como”. We then see 20-year-old Clare and 28-year-old Henry arguing on the train about how time for them is already spelled out and they can’t deviate from set events. Clare calls Henry an asshole despite her attraction to him because she can sense he’s hiding something from her. They get off the train and Clare tries to go to a different place for their lunch date. This is where she runs in to the predicted green man and fruity coffee scenario. There is a mural of Lake Como on the wall of the cafe and their waiter is also a children’s entertainer who is already prepped for his next gig. Clare admits she doesn’t entirely hate him but wants to know why Henry is the way he is. All of these questions and answers are designed to prove to Clare that may not entirely like 28-year-old Henry but he only becomes the man she knew as a child because of their relationship.

Henry explains his mother’s death through flashbacks. Annette was an opera singer and Clare remembers her parents listening to her records. Clare knew about the accident as it made the news at the time but didn’t realize Henry was Annette’s son. 24-year-old Henry first watches Annette’s concert and then follows Richard at 33 to an Italian restaurant where he proposes to 30-year-old Annette. Clare asks if Henry talks to the other versions of himself. He says yes. 26-year-old Henry meets infant Henry as his parents walk through a park. He stops to chat with the couple and coos at the baby in the carriage without revealing his identity. 

In the last episode, Henry told Clare about another time traveler training him but didn’t specify who it was. Henry tells her he is able to talk to his past selves so he schools eight-year-old Henry on survival skills such as pick-pocketing. He also explains that it was impossible to do anything to avoid the accident. There’s an extended sequence of eight-year-old Henry learning that no matter what he did to try to tell his mom about the future, either her disbelief or another event would get in the way. Henry also frequently travels to his mother’s funeral.. 

Later on, Richard finds out Henry can indeed time travel, but it is at the worst possible time. He catches horny 16-year-old Henry in bed with another version of himself. 20-year-old Clare’s reaction represents the audience’s brain breaking trying to understand what the hell happened there. If viewers who did not read the book or see the movie bail on the miniseries at this point, it’s perfectly understandable. There are too many questions that aren’t answered beyond ‘Henry is a ridiculous teenage boy’. 

As part of their date, Henry takes Clare to the library where he’s stashed a bunch of mementos of his childhood. Sometimes stress pulls Henry into traveling, so he doesn’t want these photos in his apartment. Henry says he often cares too much about people which forces him to wall off his emotions. He asks Clare what she would do if she had the chance to ask his mother a question and she responds “why do couples get together?”. Clare gets her answer through a cassette recording of Annette performing “Madame Butterfly” that Herry hasn’t heard until now. Henry went back in time to talk to Annette at the stage door, and the recording includes her audience talkback. Annette answers on the tape that love isn’t going to last forever so it is in that sense doomed as Puccini’s protagonist Madame Butterfly was. Her advice to Claire (and the audience) is to go for being happy while it lasts. This philosophy is key to understanding that while many may call The Time Traveler’s Wife a romance, thematically it isn’t because the happily ever after is finite. The episode ends with Annette taking her bow. 

Does Henry revisit how and when he dies? What about Henry’s current relationship with his father? What about Ingrid who was brought up in the first episode and not addressed? Will the next episode of The Time Traveler’s Wife provide answers?

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The Time Traveler’s Wife continues next Sunday the 29th of May on HBO Max and on Monday the 30th on Sky Atlantic in the UK.